ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element,

I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.Eugene V. Debs




For Stan Tookie Williams

                                     By Rudolph Lewis

We stroll prison corridors

orange jump-suit filled blackness

locked in silver bracelets. Dark suit

brown box & mother’s tears

waiting in our cells. We live in the wine weary

seas behind eyeballs with traffic lights

a lover’s odor clouds the brain, a quarrel

like sharks swims into view, waved pass hurriedly.


In his rubber roomisolated,

lightlessHuey defiantly blacked out

his fears. Like Etheridge's revolutionaries

he was doomed, stripped down

to “love & history.”  We're bonded

you & I, runaways from plantations

centuries ago on the frontiers

of coon-capped forests, a thousand streams

of terror & hope—that Legba

village boy still inside. 


We're food for the scorpion 

scratching, sinking in flowing sands—the way

is a green corridor—no options left,

only one guaranteed exit. 


Mama’s cooking, the ragged apron. 

The spiritual wrestler grappling 

for ghosts in  Daddy’s house.


The moon will not shine tonight. No

flood will wash away their crimes

through thick walls. I feel cold rain

fall from the sky in your six by ten.

Time runs out for Tookie the Redeemed.

posted 5 December 2005

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Jim Brown's Longest Yard: The Fight to Save Stan Tookie Williams
By Dave Zirin

"Years ago, I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. . . . While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Eugene V. Debs

These words of the fabled social activist also define the life of NFL hall of famer and actor Jim Brown. He has mediated truces between the toughest gangs in Los Angeles and fought racism from South Central to Soweto. But today he is involved in a different kind of fight: the race to save Stan Tookie Williams, who now awaits execution on California's death row. Williams is due to be executed December 13, and Brown has linked arms with a motley crew of activists from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg demanding that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spare his life. Schwarzenegger, who has set a clemency hearing for December 8, recently told reporters he is "dreading" the decision he is about to make.

Source: TheNation

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Rudy, I hope you'll submit your piece on swimming to the southern anthology. (The deadline for submissions is January 2, 2006).Jeannette

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I like this one too, even though I haven't jumped on the Tookie bandwagon. There are hundreds of thousands of black men in prison more deserving of a movement. I get a letter at least once a month from them. Like Cicely Tyson's cousin, Brian, who got life for killing a drug dealer on his block who was in bed with the Philly cops. The FBI knew about it too, but wouldn't help at his trial. in fact, the judge tried to put a black paper trying to publicize his case out of business by fining it an unheard of $1000 a minute for contempt of court. From Legal Watch

On Sept. 23, 1997, Brian Tyson shot and killed Damon Millner in Feltonville, Pa. Later that night, Tyson was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Tyson confessed to killing Millner but said that he had acted in self-defense. According to Tyson, Millner was a drug dealer who, together with other drug dealers, had been out to get him.

Before his trial was scheduled to begin, Tyson gave interviews to Reporters Mark Bowden of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Linn Washington Jr., of the Philadelphia Tribune. Based on the interviews, both newspapers published a series of articles about the case. They reported that, according to Tyson, he had been involved in a long-running feud with local drug dealers and had been active in trying to rid his neighborhood of drugs before the shooting.

Pennsylvania officials read the articles and noticed inconsistencies in Tyson's story. They believed that the articles suggested that Tyson may have shot Millner for reasons other than self-defense. Accordingly, the commonwealth subpoenaed Bowden and Washington to testify at Tyson's trial regarding unpublished statements he had made during the interviews. The state also issued a subpoena requiring the reporters to turn over their interview notes.

Bowden and Washington moved to quash the subpoenas. The trial court granted the motion in part, holding that they were not required to turn over their notes. Nevertheless, the court ordered the reporters to produce – either orally or in writing – any statements made by Tyson about the shooting and his relationship to local drug dealers.

The reporters refused to produce Tyson's statements.

On Dec. 13, 2000, the trial court held Bowden and Washington in contempt and ordered each of them to pay $100 for every minute that they refused to comply.

I wrote about this brother and spoke to a producer at 60 Minutes about doing a story on him, but to no avail. He is obviously innocent. A reporter from the Philly Inquirer contacted me on the Q-T to let me know that the FBI wiretaps which brought down some folks in the Philly's Mayor's office revealed that the cops were on the take from the drug cartel which had firebombed Brian Tyson's car, shot at him and his family at whim until he finally went and bought a gun.

Before that, Brian wrote letters of complaint to the Mayor, the Police Commissioner, and others. He had gone to the Million Man March in 1995 and was inspired by the experience to confront the drug dealers on his block. His story is just the tip of the iceberg of stories I've heard, because I'm a progressive attorney. Brian was a college grad who had never been arrested before.Peace out, Kam 

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Kam, I agree with you that it's a very fine poem, but I can't tell what side of the issue Rudy comes up on.  Like you, I can't get on the Tookie bandwagon.  I heard him interviewed by Tavis Smiley, and the man came through as insincere, duplicitous, and cagey as hell.  He didn't answer a single question straight up.  I'd rather devote my emotional energy to some of those young Black men who've been sent up for possessing a little weed.  I just returned from viewing Capote, which is a powerful study of desire, violence, self-destructiveness, and manipulation. 


The heavy silences and the shots of that empty, bleak Kansas landscape and of the massive stone prison are awesome.Miriam


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I'm writing a poem, only. I know nothing of Tookie. The Tookie in the poem is a type, whatever the Tookie of real life is. I only came to know this man in California within the last several days, with many pleading for his life. I'm often behind the curve in these matters. Such life and death issues are dreadful. I wish no man killedpast, present, or future. Murder is cruel whatever its justification. The poem is about the struggle to be, using your swimming metaphor, and redemption, if such a thing be. But it's mostly about the general fabric of cruelty in America.Rudy 

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Hi Rudy: Yes, we are all "strolling prison corridors," dressed in orange jump suits, overcrowded, with poor food, poor health & mental health care, abuse & racism, violence & despair. Prison in America is barbaric, and the death penalty is without question the lowest depth of that barbarism.  

One of the blogs I follow is worth drawing attention  to in regards to your fine poem, "For Stan Tookie Williams"  The Real Cost of Prison Weblog RealCostofPrisons in particular this entry posted December 1, 2005 

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More Young Black Men Have Done Prison Time Than Military Service or Earned a College Degree

May. 20, 2004 | Social Science | Law and Policy

More young black men have done prison time than military service or earned college degree, study shows

CONTACT: Joel Schwarz 206-543-2580


Being jailed in federal or state prisons has become so common today that more young black men in the United States have done time than have served in the military or earned a college degree, according to a new study.

The paper, appearing this week in the American Sociological Review, estimates that 20 percent of all black men born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in prison by the time they reached their early 30s. By comparison, less than 3 percent of white males born in the same time period had been in prison.

Equally startling, the risks of prison incarceration rose steeply with lower levels of education. Among blacks, 30.2 percent of those who didn't attend college had gone to prison by 1999 and 58.9 percent of black high school dropouts born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in state or federal prison by their early 30s.

"More strikingly than patterns of military enlistment, marriage or college graduation, prison time differentiates the young adulthood of black men from the life course of white males. Imprisonment is now a common life event for an entire demographic group," said Becky Pettit, one of the study's authors and a University of Washington assistant professor of sociology. Bruce Western, a Princeton University professor of sociology, is the co-author.

The study looks at men born from 1945 through 1969 focusing on two groups -- those born from 1945 through 1949 and those born from 1965 through 1969. It draws on publicly available data on inmates in federal and state prisons from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, but does not include information on spending time in local jails, which hold an estimated one-third of the incarcerated prison population. Hispanics were not included because data was not available, particularly about men born in the 1940s.

The incarceration rate for black men born in 1945-49 was 10.6 percent by the time they were in their early 30s, but increased to 20.5 percent for those born in 1965-69. Among white men the overall risk of imprisonment grew from 1.4 percent to 2.9 percent over the same time period.

The increase in incarceration marked a dramatic shift in the life course for young black males. In addition to estimating the risk of incarceration for birth cohorts by race and education, the researchers compared the prevalence of spending time in prison to other important life events for men born in 1965-69 who survived until 1999. Pettit and Western found that 22.4 percent of surviving black men born in that period had spent time in jail, while just 17.4 percent had served in the military and only 12.5 percent had earned a bachelor's degree.

By the end of 1999, 1.3 million men were in federal or state prisons. The researchers said that changes in penal policy through the 1970s and '80s, including custodial sentences for drug offenses and mandatory minimum sentences, helped fuel the expansion of the penal system and has led to growing disparities in the risk of incarceration by education.

"Prison is no longer just for the most violent or incorrigible offenders. Inmates are increasingly likely to be serving time for drug offenses or property crimes," Pettit said. "While there is enduring racial disproportionality in imprisonment, we find that the lifetime risk of incarceration is increasingly stratified by education. Over the past 30 years the risk of incarceration has grown for both blacks and whites, but has grown the fastest among men who have a high school diploma or less."

"This has become increasingly important because we know ex-prisoners face a variety of challenges after incarceration," said Western. "These range from employer discrimination in the job market to increased risks of divorce and separation in family life. The experience of imprisonment in America has emerged as a key social division marking a new pattern in the lives of recent birth cohorts of black men."

The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.

The other blog I follow, the flip side of this issue, is, without doubt, run by a bodhisattva, an enlightened being: LA's Homeless Blog

And what else is a mother to do, but shed tears, read blogs?Jane


The Justice Policy Institute reported in 2002 that there were 791,649 Black men of all ages in jail or prison compared to 603,000 in higher education.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest "real progress toward freedom and justice." Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. "This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him." —John Pilger

In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.—
Publisher's Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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update 25 February 2012




Home Criminalizing a Race: Blacks and Prisons Table   Mosquitoes Fly Out My Head

Related files: For Stan Tookie Williams   State Murder of Stan Tookie Williams   Postcard from Hell  Ode to Bowling Balls   When They Flooded New Orleans  The street I live on is dying  Will the people ever wake up?  

I Choose Us: The African  Mosquitoes Fly Out My Head